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Retirestyle Cruise Tips (Cruise Hacks)

Retirestyle Cruise Tips (Cruise Hacks):

We love the cruising experience. Hopefully, these tips will help you get the most out of a cruise, avoid inconveniences, and save money.

  1. Promotions. Once you have a few itineraries or even a preferred departure port identified, start watching the prices online. Subscribe to some cruising newsletters to be notified of new promotions and sales. Recently, we have noticed that the cruise lines offer similar promotions at the same time to be competitive. However, sometimes a promotion will be so good that you change your mind about the cruise ship or itinerary.
  2. Last-minute deals. If you can, book a last-minute cruise (usually departing in less than 2 weeks), where you can save 50% or more from the regular price and get extra promotions like free upgrades and onboard credit.
  3. Cruise lines. Every cruise line has its competitive advantages. We have cruised on Norwegian twice because our first cruise to Alaska was so fantastic, but otherwise we have cruised on different cruise lines every time and always had a great experience. For example, Carnival was more of a party ship with a younger crowd. We have also cruised on Royal Caribbean, Imperial, Costa, and Princess. Thus, our advice would be to mix it up and try new cruise lines when you can. You don’t know what you are missing.
  4. Cruise line loyalty programs. The only caveat to point 3 above is that the cruise lines reward you for being a repeat customer. They will give you early boarding and late disembarking (or “debarking” as they call it).  They often give you free room category upgrades and sometimes provide additional perks like one free meal at the a la carte restaurants that usually cost extra. They also might give you a free bottle of wine or some flowers or chocolates in your room when you arrive. For me, the experience of trying a new cruise line as well as the possible cost savings by choosing the cheapest cruise ship out of my desired departure port more than offsets these small perks offered by the loyalty programs.
  5. Boarding. Try to board the ship as early as possible, which means arriving prior to the earliest boarding time available. It does not necessarily give you access to your luggage early, but you can start exploring the ship, enjoying the cruise departure festivities, and even have a meal at the restaurant or by the pool before the majority of the other people board the cruise. Because you don’t have access to your suitcases until several hours after you board, be sure to bring a carry-on bag for the cruise embarkation. It can contain pretty much the same as the one from your flight. At a minimum, it should have your phones, chargers, camera, trip itinerary, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lots of other things if you have small kids. Of course also be sure you have your cruise confirmation or ticket, credit card, ID, and passports in your purse or wallet.

Other tips (especially for first-time cruisers):

  • If you have kids, you should bring walkie-talkies because cellular signal for your cell phone is either not available or extremely expensive and it is the best way to reach your significant other or older teenage kids when you get separated.
  • Power bars are a necessity with all of the modern electronics and limited outlets. These may be prohibited on some cruise ships, so research in advance. A multi-port USB adapter may be a decent work-around.
  • Don’t buy duty-free alcohol on the ship. Bring a few bottles with you when you board and then buy more in the ports of call.  These can be consumed on the ship and bring a duty-free bottle back each as a souvenir.
  • Don’t try to do it all on your first cruise. Don’t exhaust yourself. Don’t book a long excursion in every port – instead pick one or two ports to wander around and go back to the ship for lunch or an early dinner.
  • Don’t over-eat, over-drink, or party until the early hours every night as it will decrease your enjoyment and memories of the trip.
  • In general, we do not think that the unlimited beverage packages are worth the money unless you drink a lot. You can pay to get unlimited pop or unlimited beer, wine and cocktails. We might have one alcoholic drink per day and we get free water and juice with our meals on most cruise ships.
  • Most ships have ample free dining options, both buffet and a la carte. I don’t think it is a good use of money to pay for the special dining options, but if you want to try it, you should make your reservations as far in advance as possible as they have limited seating.
  • At sail-away time, you should try to have a seat near the pool if possible. There is usually a big party while the ship pulls away from the port and you can usually take a few opportunities to go over to the window and sun-tanning deck to get a good view of the port while the ship sails away.
  • When you look at the cruise website or brochure, you will see lots of activities and amenities. Keep in mind that not all of them are free. For instance, the Costa Serena had a race car simulator and movie theatre, but both cost extra, which was a bit of a let down. We bit the bullet and let our kids try the car simulator, but didn’t splurge on a movie. Spa services are also very expensive.
  • Take more excursions, even though they are expensive, because it is the best way to experience the most of the unique culture and attractions of these countries that you travelled so far to get to.  Doing it yourself might save money, but could waste time and might make you miss one thing you will wish you saw or did. However, you should research and choose your excursions carefully because over the length of the cruise, they can easily cost more than the cruise itself.
  • Add on several fun days near the port after you get off the ship but before you fly back home. This helps you transition back to normal “non-cruise” life and helps reduce the sad feeling that some people have at the end of a fantastic cruise.
  • If you haven’t cruised before, please click here to read another post called “Introduction to Cruising“.


Happy Travels,


P.S. Here are links to our social media accounts, in case you want to connect that way:

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P.S. If you are still reading, then perhaps you want to watch the video from our YouTube channel about our recent Caribbean Cruise on the Norwegian Epic from Miami that had ports of call in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, George Town, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel, Mexico…


  • Katie - Life With Ktkinnes

    Oh wow so much information in one post! There are some great tips here which I will try to remember for when we next start looking at going on holiday as a cruise is not something we’ve done before but would be quite interested in.

  • Matt

    This is a great article Kevin! I've put together a couple like it that might be helpful for your readers too.

    11 tips for first time cruisers that I wish I'd known before my first cruise
    5 tips to get the most out of cruising and avoid burn out

    I wanted to clarify your tip on "Power bars are a necessity with all of the modern electronics and limited outlets". If what you call a power bar is the same as what we call a power board, these aren't permitted on any cruises we've been on. Any power adapter that requires a cable attachment is not permitted. If it doesn't have a cable (eg what we would call a double adapter) that is fine though. I believe it is because the cable can become a hazard for the stewards when making up and cleaning your room. I typically recommend an adapter that has lots of USB ports to help combat this. I have one that gives me a universal outlet, 3x USB-A ports and 1x USB-C port. That gives us more than enough to charge everything (Phone, iPad, Laptop, Camera, Action camera) off a single outlet, that said, we rarely have everything plugged in at once anyway. I wrote an article on this based on what adapter Aussies need for cruising on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, but the same adapter caters to pretty much every ship and allows plugging in most major electrical socket types.

  • Matt

    The other thing I thought I'd add (but it was too long to put in the same comment) is regarding your tip on "I don't think it is a good use of money to pay for the special dining options, but if you want to try it, you should make your reservations as far in advance as possible as they have limited seating."

    This used to be my perspective as well. However, when we spent 18 nights doing a Transpacific cruise, they had a combo deal that gave us three restaurants for the price of 2. We had already booked one in advance for my wife's birthday, so this gave us the opportunity to try 4 of the specialty restaurants on board. I certainly wouldn't spend the money all the time, but these restaurants can be much more relaxing than the main dining room or buffet since there are less people and they are a lot quieter. They are typically all themed and add another piece to the onboard experience puzzle. For example, Samba Grill on Radiance of the Seas is a Brazilian themed steak house which is a lot of fun.

    On P&O Australia, some of the specialty restaurants are free but really need to be booked in advance to get a seat. They have much better food than the main dining room (something I wouldn't necessarily say about specialty restaurants on other ships).

    I'd also add, our experience has been that they really don't need to be booked in advance (with the exception of on P&O Australia). You can often get the best deals by not booking. I've encountered deals on most Royal Caribbean ships trying to fill Chops Grille at half price from halfway through the evening. On Princess, we've been given free 'taster' seatings at the Sterling Steakhouse after boarding which turned out to be a full meal same as if we paid the cover charge.

    You can sometimes get good deals booking before you cruise, but most of the time the best prices are on board, as long as you are flexible to go when they are promoting a deal. One of the advance booking options that usually does work out really well is Royal Caribbean's "First Night Done Right" deal. This is usually at Chops Grille on sailaway evening and is usually about half price. Typically, it's pretty well empty on the first night so it's one of the most peaceful places to have dinner on the first night! Waaaaay calmer than the buffer and often easier than the MDR where everyone is figuring out where their seats are etc.

  • Retirestyle Travel

    Glad you agree. You will probably love your first cruise so much you might be tempted to use the same cruise line again, but they all have their own benefits and vibes that you should try if you can. This is a great cruise tip for beginners.

  • Retirestyle Travel

    You will love the cruising experience. Hopefully, things return to some sort of normal on the cruise ships and ports of call before you go. The cruise tips should help you get the most out of your first cruise

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